My first year at Tufts was anything but easy. Three years ago, during Freshman Orientation, we were required to see a presentation called In The Sack – a peer-led presentation on sexual violence. As I sat next to my roommate, listening to the definitions of assault and sexual violence, I began having flashbacks and started to cry uncontrollably.
I had only just realized that an event that had occurred only a few months prior, between myself and an intimate partner, was sexual assault.
After returning to my dorm, I began to unpack the months leading up to my first days of my freshmen year. I had only then comprehended that the relationship between my partner and me had been a very stereotypical example of domestic violence, one which included the characteristics of abuse that we had learned in my high school health class—he was controlling, jealous, violent in words and actions, and he isolated me from speaking to other men that weren’t his close friends, laughed at me for crying because of him, slept with others while restricting me from doing so, yelled at me for discussing our relationship with others, and blamed me for his rollercoaster-like emotions and actions. There was one thing missing, however, from the “ideal” domestic abuse scenario—he never beat me. While I can remember times when he would squeeze my face or wrists so tightly I’d cry or, smacked me on the thighs during an argument, he never once struck me in a way that is displayed in media as a depiction of domestic abuse.
One of the major problems with the common understanding of domestic abuse is the fact that non-physical violent characteristics are often overlooked and forgotten. It is alarming how many times a survivor of non-violent abuse will hear, “at least they didn’t hit you,” when confiding their experiences to an individual. It is especially alarming that these characteristics are ignored due to the fact that they are often predecessors to physical violence, but still not taken seriously by society.
The Twitter hashtag discussions of #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, however, have helped to not only give voice to survivors of domestic abuse, but have also provided an outlet for discussion on the importance of these marginalized examples of domestic abuse. This discussion has become especially important in light of the leaked video of recently-discharged Baltimore Ravens player, Ray Rice, beating his wife, Janay Rice, unconscious. While it may be important that this video was discovered, it has not only been released to the public against the wishes of Janay, the survivor, but has disrupted her life, forcing her to relive this abuse. Janay has described in her Instagram how distraught she is by this unnecessary media frenzy, and while it has created a great deal of discussion on domestic violence, it has forced a survivor of violence to relive her trauma when she does not wish to leave her relationship or seek retribution against Ray Rice, denying that any repeat instances of abuse have taken place.
Most of all, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft has opened doors for survivors to come forth with their stories and has given strength to many through the sharing of these stories. For me, after three years and two other isolated instances of sexual assault, hours of counselling, many tears and internal screaming, I am still afraid of my abuser. My only response for the #WhyILeft hashtag was that I never did, which is sadly the case for some women, as domestic violence can be fatal. Thankfully, I am still alive, but my abuser left the country before I could ever leave the relationship, and I still have not fully healed from this experience. However, this doesn’t mean that I have not grown in strength, courage, and self-love.
[bctt tweet=” Thankfully, I am still alive, but my abuser left the country.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Despite having an abuser who came from a Muslim background, religion being a factor that is often used to excuse abuse and violence, I found peace in Islam, converting less than a year later. Not only did I find that, at its core, Islam is very supportive of women, but it also is a space where feminism can thrive under the right circumstances. I found peace in prayer and in being amongst many of the friendliest and accepting people I’ve ever met, though it did take me time to find Muslim communities that I could thrive in and that would accept me.
I wholeheartedly believe, at the end of the day, that Islam is perfect, and Muslims are not – a point not often portrayed in Western media, contributing to the current state of Islamophobia in the United States. Regardless of the reaction of some of my peers to my conversion, Islam has been my refuge, giving me a sense of serenity when I was at one of the most vulnerable places in my life, and it continues to be a safe haven for me as I heal.